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HERB BENHAM: A dream come true or just refinanced?

Recently, I received a letter in the mail. It was from PNC Bank, for whom my cousin Paul works or has worked. Paul is a mortgage broker and our mortgage was with PNC.

I like Paul. Paul’s funny, from a family that values funny and he is good at what he does. In addition to his many personal and professional strengths, after reading the letter, Paul was also the bearer of good news.

In the top left corner of the letter was the company name, PNC Bank. In the top right corner, its address in Dayton, Ohio, and below it, in bold letters, the customer service number, which I appreciated because most companies don’t really want to talk to you because people are messy and can ask messy questions.

The letter started below our name and address and read in festive print, “Congratulations! Your loan has been paid in full.”

What do you know? Our ship has come in. Sailed in from its long, haphazard journey and brought a treasure chest full of gold doubloons and a hip, hip hooray.

It was proof. Dreams do come true. You have to believe, believe even when all evidence is to the contrary.

“Evidence” like this. We refinanced the house last year. Refinanced for the seemingly 300th time in order to avail ourselves of a lower rate. Our payment is lower and we look forward to having the house paid for by 2050 or when much of the California coastline will be underwater but we will be looking good.

No reason to “look forward” now because our loan had been paid off. “Enclosed are the cancelled documents pertaining to the payoff of your loan.”

It said so right there in the letter. We were squared. Strike the match because it was time to burn the mortgage.

Given that we had not done this, somebody else had. “Somebody” who liked me. Or liked Sue. Probably Sue.

Some family members have money. Some don’t and I'm in the “some don’t” part of the family.

My sister Hope could have said, “I’ve always liked Herb. Let’s surprise him and pay off his mortgage.”

Hope and her husband, Morton, live in Walla Walla, Wash., and the letter announcing our good fortune was notarized in Silverdale, Wash., by Gary W. Enriquez. Silverdale and Walla Walla are about five and a half hours apart by car. Maybe they couldn't find another notary closer to Wala Wala than Silverdale. Notaries were busy paying off mortgages and fulfilling other people’s dreams

Rather than claim any credit, Morton and Hope might have done the good deed anonymously. If this was the case, I want to thank them publicly. They have no idea what this means to us.

It could have been one of my brothers, We get along well. We’ve had our moments — totally their fault — but now during pay-off-the-mortgage time, things are good and may have gotten better. Thanks for your generosity. You didn’t have to do it but you did. There are a million more deserving causes but I am your brother.

Mom might have written the check. She likes me better than the other five anyway.

Maybe it was somebody I don’t know or to whom I was kind when they were down, sick or friendless, friendless except for me. Somebody I touched in a selfless way that did not require recognition. My columns can be like that and I understand people have been moved enough in the past to want to make a financial gesture but haven’t known how to do that.

No matter who stepped forward, I’ve lived long enough to have learned that these things happen. I called my cousin Paul and left a message: “Somebody paid off our mortgage. Maybe it was your brother Greg. Greg and I have had a real bond.”

Paul called back quickly, quicker than I wanted.

“You can stop dreaming, Herb. That’s from when we refied and paid off your last loan,” Paul said.

That was months ago. Hadn’t that stream of paperwork concluded? Why send out a rogue letter this late in the game?

Why couldn’t this have happened?

“How many rich people do you know who will pay off your mortgage even if you’re related to them?” he said.

We talked about rich people and whether it would kill them to do something like this. We concluded that it might. Paul advised me to keep paying the mortgage. Paying until I died, we died and then after we died.

My email address is listed below. If I have touched you or you are touched without my having touched you, we don’t have to make this anonymous. Count on me to spread the good word.

Herb Benham is a columnist for The Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at or 661-395-7279.